A strange name that combines Emile Zola with Jesus Christ, her 2011 album, Conatus, that sounds dark against the white cover, the cold Wisconsin and her frozen Russia, the enthusiasm (and the indifference too) of the music world: who’s Zola Jesus? Maybe it’s true that 2 plus 2 makes 5, maybe she’s something more than just this, or maybe just something different. It’s like Nika Roza Danilova, her real name, was just elsewhere, a little distant from you, from her music.
So, let’s make this clear: an interview with Zola Jesus, just for you.
Let’s talk about your name: Zola Jesus, where does this come from? What’s the meaning, if there’s a link, of the references to Emile Zola and Jesus Christ?
It was at first pretty arbitrary, but there is an obvious duality between the realism of Zola and the idealism/unreal of Jesus Christ.
This is not your first project: what’s your musical past? What’s more – what is Zola Jesus to you: is it a character, a mask that let you express yourself, the Inner you, a way to mediate with the world and preserve yourself or something radically different?
It’s just a band name. When I was making music I was used to listening to punk bands, they all had names. I thought calling it by my own name would be silly or a little narcissistic. Zola Jesus is just a name in which I put the music under, but it’s no less distant from me.
Your music comes from the darker night, the abyss, the kind of music you associate with a darker you, the one you want to listen with the lights down – and your voice is like coming from another world to penetrate yours. How important is the use of your voice? Do you see it absorbed in this darker background?
My voice is often all I have, as that’s the instrument I was trained on. It’s the most expressive tool for me. I make music in order to explore myself, my boundaries, and other greater psychological and philosophical questions I have. Sometimes it’s dark, other times it’s joyous.
What’s music to you: a consolation (like in I Can’t Stand when you sing “It’s going to be allright”), a scream in the dark, a help to yourself, to the others?
It’s everything. Music is a reflection of humanity and human emotion.
If you could make a list of what has influenced you and what is still influencing you, what would you write? I’m not speaking just about music, but also directors, movies, writers.
My music comes from all of my experience. Everything that I’ve learn and grown from in my entire life is a part of how and why I make music.
If you could make a wish, where and with whom would you like to perform?
I would love to perform at the Guangzhou Opera House with a full orchestra.